5 Questions with... Alex Collins

Welcome to another brand-new feature on CinemATL.com. There are so many talented folks working in the Atlanta film industry, we should learn more about them! In this new feature, we ask "5 Questions" -- hence the title (clever!) -- of one of Atlanta's talented film professionals. So, without further ado...

Actor Alex Collins has claimed Atlanta as his hometown since his high-school years, after moving from England. Most people have no idea that Alex is a native Brit, based on his American accent, but about 60% of his acting work is British characters. Perfect example -- The Accountant, where Alex's Brit bad guy gets the crap beat out of him by Jon Bernthal. Trust us, he deserved it! 

Alex also played Francis in season two of Underground and also appeared in TURN: Washington's Spies. He's been a member of SAG-AFTRA for over 14 years and works as an acting teacher and coach when he is not on set. He also is active on social media, and shares his advice on many online film forums. 

Enough intro, let's get on with the questions!

1. So, how did you get into this whole acting thing anyway?

Ah, the million dollar question for actors. As I mentioned, I grew up in England and in the 80's (pre-internet, pre-cable) we had four channels and a lot of our TV was American. I grew up with A-Team, Knight Rider, CHiPs and a ton of cartoons. For me, I really liked The Fall Guy with Lee Majors. It was about a stuntman and it was glamorous and sexy and Hollywood and it looked awesome. So originally, I really think I wanted to be a stuntman. Flash forward to today and I have immense respect for the stunt professionals, especially since almost all of my credits require me to get punched, stabbed, shot, or beat up in some way.

Anyway, from the time I was a kid, all I really wanted to do was play soccer professionally. I came pretty darn close, even landing on pro rosters, but could never quite crack the code and ended up doing the responsible thing and putting my degree to use and working as a cube dweller in the finance world. My best friend also had aspirations in the industry and would call me and bug me "quit your job, quit your job" every day. Finally, after about six months of that, with no rhyme or reason, I did quit my job. Then had to figure out really quickly how to pay bills and immerse myself into acting class. The industry was much smaller in Atlanta back then and class options were limited to just a couple of places in town.

For three plus years, I studied everything I could read, took class as often as possible, and became a sponge. I had returned the favor and bugged my friend to quit his job. He did. Ultimately we were both cast in the same big commercial, got our union eligibility and made enough money that we put a date on the calendar and both moved to Los Angeles...where the streets are paved with gold...or so we thought.

Alex with Jon Bernthal on the set of  The Accountant .

Alex with Jon Bernthal on the set of The Accountant.

2. But now you're back in Atlanta (and we're happy to have you). How did that happen?

I am.  I was in LA for more almost a decade and it was a challenging time.  For those who've never lived in LA and attempted to work as an actor, it's tough.  Getting an agent is a victory in and of itself.  The first agent you get may be a commercial agent as that's more on looks and less about credits/talent/who you know.  Getting a theatrical agent for film and TV is even more challenging.  If an agent leaves an agency, there's a good chance you'll get dropped from the roster.  Not booking sufficiently... dropped.  Too many people in your category... dropped.  

So, that made it tough to make any headway.  Coupled with the writers strike of 2008 and subsequent trickle down of A-listers doing TV, it made roles even more scarce.  I've told students in my classes this before when they are feeling 'down' about the industry -- I went more than 3,200 days between bookings in LA.  Think about that.  I could talk about that forever. 

So, I decided to move back to Atlanta.  I had always kept tabs on the industry, spoke with my friends and my agent in Atlanta, and ultimately in 2010, my brain said "it's time to move back." My heart wanted to keep me in LA, close to my friends, the sketch comedy company that I'd helped to co-found, and because leaving LA felt like a failure in many ways.  It took me until late 2012 to finally make the decision to return to Atlanta.  

It's been the best decision I could've possibly made for my career. 

3. You often share advice online, especially in the Atlanta Film Community group on Facebook. What's your best advice to somebody who might just be starting out as an actor in Atlanta?

Great question.

Honestly, there is SO MUCH information available out there for free these days, both in the form of "master classes" like Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman that help the craft of acting, but also the myriad of resources available for the business of the business.  I've been doing this a long time and I've made a lot of mistakes that have cost me a lot of money, so I try and offer responses and insight that will save people both time and money.

For me, this career comes down to a few variables:

  • It's a marathon, not a sprint:  If you truly want to pursue a career in this industry, then buckle up and get ready for a long ride.  There is no such thing as an overnight success.
  • A rising tide lifts all boats:  The more educated our actor population, both in terms of training and in terms of business savvy, the more seriously each person in our industry is being taken by decision makers.
  • Train, train, train:  Every acting mentor I have, every friend of mine that is a series regular or truly successful in this business is constantly training.  I had four to five series regulars in my class in LA.  When they were on hiatus, they were in class.  Even when shooting, they'd come to class to work a particularly tricky scene.  Everyone also private coaches big auditions.  It's incredibly helpful.  A world class athlete is constantly honing, refining and tweaking.  All of that is done in training so why do actors feel that there's an end point to training?
  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable:  This sort of goes back to my first point about the marathon, but actors will hear 99 no's for every 1 yes and that's okay, just get comfortable with that.  Find a life outside of acting, whether that's friends and family, whether that's a sport or hobby, or it may even be the 'day job' that allows you the flexibility to audition and work as an actor.  The vast majority of people in the industry do not make a living from acting, so there's always a need for outside pursuits and that's okay.
  • Be an ambassador:  Divas and difficult people get a reputation quickly.  Ideally, as actors, we should show up, do our work, and go home.  That's it.  Crew has a vastly more challenging set of work hours and conditions than we do.  We're very fortunate in that regard.
Alex performs on WGN's  Underground .

Alex performs on WGN's Underground.

A final point I'd like to mention is that because there are zero barriers to entry in this market, so many people come in unprepared, don't respect the craft, and think one eight week class or one fortunate booking here and there and magically they are an actor.  I find that disrespectful to all those people in the industry who dedicate their lives to it.  There's nothing wrong with being new, being green and not knowing everything.  Heck, I learn something everyday and still make plenty of mistakes.  But having an ego is the wrong way to about things, in my opinion.  And here's the kicker:  When an LA actor blows an audition, or is a diva on set, or screws up royally while working...they just harm themselves.  When an Atlanta based actor does the same thing(s), they represent the ENTIRE industry in town.  Why?  Because we're still trying to prove to LA based producers and decision makers that we are professionals, that we are every bit as talented, and that we do deserve the opportunity to land series regular roles and heavy supporting roles in features.  We do, but we have to maintain that level of professionalism and every actor who doesn't take that obligation seriously is jeopardizing future opportunities for all of us.

Whew, sorry that got long winded.

That's OK. Take a breath...

4. You recently produced and starred in a project called Debt (Everyone Owes Something). Can you tell us a little bit about it and what your plans are for it?

Thanks for asking. Debt was borne out of conversations I had with my best friend while living in LA. We were both frustrated with a lack of opportunities in our career so we decided to create our own. We brought on a writer on spec and kind of gave her an idea and an outline and asked her to write a story. She did and it was fantastic. During that time, I decided to relocate and my best friend in the process of having a baby. When we were finally ready to pick up the script using our wire friend decided that she no longer wanted to share with us. Lesson learned. Always get everything in writing. We had a handshake deal and sort of screwed us over a little bit. Fast forward and we connected with another amazing writer through a referral and she wrote a unique and really fabulous script. 

In the fall of 2015, we decided to go into production here in Atlanta as well as Chattanooga. We shot on the SAG-AFTRA short film agreement and used an entirely local crew, and for seven out of the eight speaking roles, we used local actors. The eighth role was played by Courtney Halverson who we brought in from LA. She is known for her roles in Unfriended and True Detective mainly and I've been trying to work with her for years. It's a 15 minute dramatic short with myself and producing partner Michael Proctor in the lead roles, with Courtney and fellow Atlanta actor, Michael Cole in the supporting roles. 

This process gave me a newfound and deep respect for producers. The amount of variables and balls in the air that need to be juggled are impossible to calculate on a film set. We had a moderately sized crew, eight speaking roles, and a decent budget for a short film. I can't imagine the logistics that go into producing a feature film. 

We funded the project ourselves and ended up doing a kick starter campaign for post production funds and festival submission funds. We had a successful campaign and 2016 was basically the submission period for festivals. At this point, we're really close to releasing the project for everyone to see. So, stay tuned for that. 

5. Can't wait to see it! Okay, the most important question of all... Star Wars or Star Trek?

Ah, the hardest question of all.  I think I'd have to say Star Wars.  While I did grow up watching the OG Star Trek and definitely TNG, I think that culturally Star Wars had a huge impact, and growing up in England I remember that franchise being one of the first that really stuck in my brain.  While most people wanted to be Luke Skywalker, I always associated myself more with Han Solo.

To learn more about what Alex is working on, visit his website at www.alexbcollins.com. You can also follow him on social media: Twitter @alexcollinsacts; Instagram @alexbcollins and on Facebook at facebook.com/alexbcollins